UNC can count many popular musicians on its list of notable alumni. Among the very earliest is Hal Kemp, the big band leader of the 1920s and 30s who started his musical career at UNC and went on to achieve national fame. Kemp’s saxophone and clarinet are our December Artifacts of the Month.
Kemp organized his first dance band, the five-piece Merrymakers, when he was still in high school at Charlotte Central High. After entering UNC in 1922 he started the Carolina Club Orchestra, which recorded for Okeh records and performed in Europe during summer breaks. Before graduating, Kemp invited Kay Kyser to take over as bandleader for the Carolina Club Orchestra.
The seven-piece combo Kemp formed during his senior year became the foundation for the professional band he established in the spring of 1926, the year he graduated. While it was active, Kemp’s band recorded some of the era’s major hits and consistently appeared in the top ten of the Billboard’s College Poll. It was the first band featured in a motion picture — 1938’s Radio City Revels.
Kemp’s instruments were generously donated by his nephew, Howard Yates Dunaway, Jr.
Dunaway traveled with the band as a teenager in the 1930s, helping to set up the band members’ instruments. When he brought the saxophone and clarinet, Dunaway, now in his 90s, shared his memories of life on the road with his uncle’s band.
Howard Dunaway and his brother Kemp Dunaway inherited the family’s musical talent: Howard played violin in the Charlotte Symphony at age 16. And his brother Kemp played these very instruments, which he had inherited from his uncle.
Hal Kemp wasn’t with us long enough. He died following an auto accident in 1940 at just 35. But his recordings will be with us forever — and so will his instruments. The North Carolina Collection Gallery is proud to care for these artifacts, which tell an important story of a time when UNC made significant contributions to the world of popular music.
“I spent September, October and November, 1865, in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia….
“I judge, from the stories told to me by various persons, that my reception was something better than that accorded to the majority of Northern men traveling in that section….
“In one of the principal towns of Western North Carolina, the landlord of the hotel said to a customer, while he was settling his bill, that he would be glad to have him say a good word for the house to any of his friends; ‘but,’ added he, ‘you may tell all d—d Yankees I can git ‘long jest as well, if they keep clar o’ me’; and when I asked if the Yankees were poor pay, or made him extra trouble, he answered, ‘I don’t want ’em ’round. I ha’n’t got no use for ’em nohow.’ In another town in the same State, a landlord said to me, when I paid my two-days’ bill, that ‘no d—n Yankee’ could have a bed in his house.’ ”
“The China National Tobacco Corp. is by far the largest cigarette maker in the world. In 2013 it manufactured about 2.5 trillion cigarettes. Its next largest competitor, Philip Morris International, produced 880 billion. …
“Last year, China National opened an office in suburban Raleigh to facilitate its growing purchases of American tobacco…..
“A few years ago, a delegation from China National showed up at the farm of Thaddeus ‘Pender’ Sharp III, whose family has grown tobacco near Sims, N.C., since the late 1800s. Wearing business attire and bearing gifts, they told Sharp they wanted to buy some of his tobacco. Sharp says China’s cigarette market reminds him of the U.S. of his childhood, when ‘people smoked everywhere but church’ and the government didn’t care much about tobacco’s effects. Inevitably, he says, China will strengthen its antismoking laws….For now, though, China National represents a way for the Sharp family to prosper.
” ‘It’s not like we are going to quit because 50 years from now everyone might not smoke,’ says Sharp, who hangs his gift from China National, a hand-painted scroll, near the door of his office. ‘Hell, no! We are going to make a living for 50 years.’ ”
“Ministers from mainstream Southern denominations preached pro-war sermons, such as the one delivered by the Presbyterian minister in Dunn, North Carolina, in January 1918 and headlined in the Raleigh News & Observer: ‘Teutons Cannot Win, Proof from Bible.’
“Other Christians had different views. In March 1917, before the declaration of war, a group of ministers from Littleton, North Carolina, wrote to [House Majority Leader] Claude Kitchin that ‘War entered into until every effort that can be made to avert it is made is murder.’… ”
Curious about how often the New York Times has referred to “Tar Heel” over the past century and a half, I applied the Chronicle tool and was surprised to see a prominent spike in 1970. A big year for politics in North Carolina, perhaps? Or sports?
Of the 73 citations I found — only .06 percent of all Times articles — no fewer than 65 reported in agate type on harness racing results from Yonkers and Roosevelt tracks. Mentioned in all: a horse known as Claire’s Tar Heel.
Note to self: Remember to look skeptically at small sample sizes.
In 1889, Mr. E. J. Stephenson made an arduous journey from Henderson, North Carolina to Newark, New Jersey via bicycle. At times, Stephenson was unable to ride his bike and resorted to walking along dusty and bumpy roads, sometimes for twenty to thirty miles. At one point, the roads would have been so difficult to travel on that he was advised to take a brief train ride.
During his two weeks of travel, he wrote about his journey documenting the sights and his expenditures as he made his way to New Jersey. He observed the Blue Ridge Mountains, crossed the Shenandoah River, and gazed across the Susquehanna River. In addition to this, he stopped for a day in Washington D.C. to visit many of the sights that are still popular destinations today. Notably, he visited the Washington Monument stating that it “is 500 feet high and took the elevator 8 minutes to get up.”
When he arrived in Newark sixteen days after departing Henderson, Stephenson had traveled 533 miles and spent $13.00 (approximately $340.00 in modern day currency.) The current time from Henderson, North Carolina to Newark by bike is approximately 44 hours since roads can be more easily traversed by bicycles since the year Stephenson made his trek. Read about the adventure, including broken spokes and free pears from farmers, in the published pages of Stephenson’s diary in the September 26, 1889 issue of The Gold Leaf.
“Sara Dylan answered the door, gave me a blank look, and closed the door. About two minutes later Bob Dylan himself appeared and stepped out onto the small porched entry. He wore blue jeans, a white shirt buttoned all the way up and a black leather vest, and he was very friendly and relaxed.
I don’t know which I appreciate more about “Christmas With Dylan” — its unforgettable, out-of-left-field last line or its serendipitous parallel with Dylan’s own youthful pilgrimage:
“On the porch was Mrs. Lillian Sandburg. She didn’t seem startled. …. Dylan announced: ‘I am a poet. My name is Robert Dylan, and I would like to see Mr. Sandburg.’ She disappeared into the house….Finally, the poet appeared, a genial, slow-moving man …. He wore an old plaid wool shirt, baggy trousers and a green eye-shade over shell-rimmed glasses….Sandburg: ‘You look like you are ready for anything….’ ”